Justice Everywhere

a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Month: July 2022

More attention is being paid to formal activism. Informal activism matters too

A common complaint made about contemporary political theory is that it is far too focused on describing what a perfect society looks like, and not focused enough on exploring the means by which we are to move toward the ideal. This criticism seems to me to be basically right. But it would not be correct to say that nothing has been said about the means by which to improve society. Political theorists have had a fair amount to say about ‘civil disobedience’, for instance.

Moreover, in recent years, scholars have increasingly turned their attention to allegedly ‘uncivil’ forms of activism, from hacktivism to hunger strikes, rioting to revolution. What all of these forms of activism have in common is that they typically have laws and policies as their targets. Hence, when political theorists think about activism, they tend to have what you might call ‘formal activism’ in mind.

While formal activism is of course essential, I want to draw attention to forms of activism that have social phenomena other than law or policy as their targets. Let’s call this kind of activism ‘informal activism’. There are at least three reasons why informal activism is important.

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An interview with Philippe van Parijs (Beyond the Ivory Tower Series)

This is the latest interview in our Beyond the Ivory Tower series (you can read previous interviews here). For this edition, Diana Popescu spoke to Philippe Van Parijs, Hoover Chair of economic and social ethics at the University of Louvain. Van Parijs is the author of several books, including Real Freedom for All and Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World. He is a founder of the Basic Income Earth Network, and chair of its advisory board. In May 2012, an article he published, ‘Picnic the Streets’, triggered a movement of civil disobedience which led to the decision to make Brussels’ central lanes car-free

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Living under manipulative governments

It’s been over a decade since behavioral insights have been incorporated into policy making through so-called nudge units. Nudge proponents have suggested that by altering choice environments in order to steer the decision-making of individuals, by triggering their automatic psychological processes, we can do much to improve their wellbeing, or promote important pro-social goals. For instance, we can use subtle visual cues to make consumers eat healthier, we can use careful wording to minimize bad financial choices, or we can make sure through default effects that donated organs are never in short supply.

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Towards a feminist city

Historically, men and women have experienced the city in a drastically different way. Cities were built not for women, but for and by men. This male dominance in urban planning brought about hetero-patriarchal norms, which are based either on women remaining quiet in the private spaces or – if they access urban spaces – relying on the urban structure created by men. The persistence of those urban spaces creates barriers for women accessing transport, land and constrains their social activity and agency needed to exercise their political voice. This is the characterisation of an oppressive and non-egalitarian city in terms of the division of power and resources.

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